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Pixel 9 will get satellite communications two years after the iPhone

Published Apr 15th, 2024 10:19AM EDT
Google Pixel 8 Software
Image: Christian de Looper for BGR

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We still have a long wait ahead of us before Google’s Pixel 9 launch, but leaks keep spoiling its new features. The newest report details two big upgrades for the Pixel 9 series. First, the Pixel 9 phones will get a new modem, which will hopefully fix some of the connectivity issues that plagued previous Pixel devices. Second, satellite communications are coming to the Pixel 9, including support for emergencies.

If the latter sounds familiar, that’s because Apple brought satellite support for emergencies to iOS via the iPhone 14 series in 2022. The feature has already saved lives, with iPhone users using satellite connectivity to connect to first responders in areas that lacked cellular and Wi-Fi coverage.

I’ve never used Emergency SOS via satellite, and I hope that will never be the case. But after seeing all those reports explaining how the feature saved lives, I’ll say that it definitely helps with peace of mind. I’ve been in situations without connectivity, and the satellite icon promptly showed up on the iPhone’s screen, telling me I would be able to use this connectivity option for emergencies.

According to Android Authority’s Kamila Wojciechowska, the Pixel 9 phones will offer a similar type of functionality this fall.

It’s all thanks to the new Samsung Modem 5400, which will be found on the Tensor G4 chip powering the Pixel 9 models. The modem will support 3GPP Rel. 17 and 5G non-terrestrial networks (NTN) or satellite communications.

Google will apparently go one step further than Apple, supporting satellite communication via text. Google will work with T-Mobile, which partners with SpaceX to support satellite communication. It’s unclear how much satellite texting will cost.

iPhone 14's Emergency SOS via satellite feature.
iPhone 14’s Emergency SOS via satellite feature. Image source: Apple

Last August, we saw reports saying Google Messages would eventually support satellite texting. However, these seemed to indicate that the feature concerned SOS services rather than actual chat apps.

Fast-forward to mid-April, and the new report says support for satellite connectivity will also let Google offer an Emergency SOS feature that will work just like the iPhones.

The blog says the Pixel 9 will feature a helpful animation so users can ensure the iPhone is within reach of a satellite. When using the Emergency SOS feature, you’ll be asked predefined questions to make the process quicker. This would allow you to provide simple answers to first responders about your situation. Here are some examples:

  • What happened?
  • [Are you/Are they/Is everyone] breathing?
  • In total, how many people are [missing/trapped]?
  • What best describes your situation?
  • What is on fire?
  • Are there weapons involved?
  • What type of vehicle or vessel?
  • Do any of these apply?

Unlike texting over satellite, the Emergency SOS feature might be available for free to users, just like on iPhone. Apple initially announced two years of free support, then extended the offer by one year (for some users). I’m just speculating, however.

Finally, there’s the hopefully immediate benefit of the Samsung Modem 5400 coming to the Pixel 9. Google might fix connectivity issues for good by upgrading the modem in the Tensor chip. Or that’s the idea, at least.

The report also says that the Pixel Fold 2 and a 5G Pixel tablet might also get the same modem. Therefore, these devices should support the same satellite connectivity features.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.